It's World Sea Turtle Day. Plant Florida Native Plants to Help Save Them.


Sea turtles are the unassuming handymen of our oceans. They mow the beds of seagrass lining ocean floors, remove algae from coral reefs, and act as Uber drivers for a multitude of sea creatures. 

And yet, sea turtles – which have been on earth for more than a hundred million years – are struggling. The Endangered Species Act lists all six species found in the United States as endangered or threatened.

The reasons are multiple and, in some situations, complex. One threat to sea turtles that is particularly problematic in our area is Karenia brevis red tide which, according to published research, has been associated with a higher number of stranded sea turtles and is “a periodically significant mortality factor of loggerheads, Kemp’s ridleys, and green turtles along the Gulf coast of Florida.”

Although Karenia brevis is a naturally occurring algae species, under the right conditions, the algae multiplies uncontrollably, leading to algae blooms that produce toxins that harm the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates and cause them to die. The toxins can also become airborne and irritate humans’ respiratory systems; this happened in Pinellas County just last week.

Scientists have documented that Karenia brevis can use at least 12 nutrients. Once blooms near the shore, they can tap “human-contributed” nutrients for growth. These nutrients include nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers.

This is where planting natives can make a difference: as a general rule, Florida soils tend to be nutrient-poor. Over the millennia, Florida’s native plants evolved and adapted to our soils. This contrasts with non-native plants, which frequently need nutrient-rich soils to look their best. As a result, those who use native plants in their gardens need to fertilize less frequently (if at all) than those who use non-natives. This means there's less potential for nutrients to runoff into our Bay.

Today is #WorldSeaTurtleDay. Why not #NurtureNative both on land and at sea? Use native plantings whenever possible and learn about other ways you can help our endangered sea turtles here.